Uptown Oakland is getting a new fish sandwich spot with a unique Japanese twist this week. The restaurant, called Masabaga, is the brainchild of Masa Sasaki, one of the Bay Area’s most respected sushi chefs. Its signature dish will be an item Sasaki has dreamed about bringing to the Bay Area for decades: a burger with a thick slice of panko-crusted fried tuna belly as its “patty” — a sandwich Sasaki says he’s never seen served in a restaurant setting.
Originally slated to open in late February or March, Masabaga’s openings has been one of Eater SF’s most highly anticipated. Now, the restaurant — which Sasaki is opening with Chikara Ono, the restaurateur behind Oakland’s B-Dama and Delage — will make its official debut on Thursday, July 9, at the former Hutch space at 2022 Telegraph Avenue, with a takeout-only menu centered on handful of unique, Japanese-inspired sandwiches.
Sasaki has been slinging sushi at high-end omasake spots in the Bay Area for nearly four decades, but he’s probably best known for his stints at Maruya, which received a Michelin star under his watch, and at his self-named restaurant Sasaki, which was temporarily closed by the pandemic. But Sasaki says he’s always dreamed of opening a more casual burger joint — a food he’s grown to love during his hobby of long motorcycle trips.
Tuna belly burgers, however, are something he’s never seen on any of his road trips. When most people think tuna belly, or “toro,” the first thing they think of is sushi, but the so-called “Masa Baga” ($16) is actually a fried fish sandwich — the belly is coated in panko bread crumbs and then deep-fried, served on an Acme round bun with a few simple condiments: frisée, pickled red onions, a yuzu kosho aioli, and a shiso vinaigrette.
The fish is cooked all the way through, but, thanks to the high fat content of the belly, stays juicy and moist. And the technical term for the belly cut Sasaki is using is the “haramo,” which the restaurant sources from yellowfin and bigeye — as opposed to true “toro,” which comes from critically overfished bluefin tuna.
Apart from the tuna belly sandwich, Sasaki says the two other sandwiches he’s offering are also his “personal favorites.” There’s a regular beef burger, made with coarse-ground American wagyu beef — a straightforward American-style cheeseburger, Sasaki says, with a wasabi mustard mayo as the only Japanese touch. And then there’s a saba (mackerel) sandwich, which recalls the flavors of Japanese-style grilled mackerel — a common favorite at Japanese restaurants, though Sasaki says the sandwich was actually inspired by a street food dish that was sold off a boat when he visited Istanbul, Turkey. At Masabaga, the mackerel is roasted and served simply with Meyer lemon slices and pickled radish slices, with a side of housemade hot sauce for dipping.
All sandwiches come with a side of black-sesame tapioca crackers, and the restaurant will also serve shoestring fries as a side dish, available with Japanese seasonings like gomashio (sesame salt) and curry flakes.
For the past month or so, the Masabaga sandwiches have been part of the to-go menu the B-Dama has been offering at the Berkeley Bowl West Cafe. They’ve been reasonably well received, Sasaki says. But now that the restaurant is officially opening, he says, “this will be the real test.”
Masabaga’s first day of service will be Thursday, July 9. To start out, it will be open for takeout — no delivery, at least at first — Thursday through Monday during dinner hours only, 5–9 p.m. Customers can walk up to order or order online via the restaurant’s website, which will go live on opening day. Service will be through a large takeout window in front of the restaurant; for now, no customers will be allowed inside the space.
See the full opening menu below: